15th February 1998


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Iraq-Russia secret link in arms inspection crisis

By R. Jeffrey Smith

United Nations in spectors in Iraq uncovered last fall what they considered highly unsettling evidence of a 1995 agreement by the Russian government to sell Iraq sophisticated fermentation equipment that could be used to develop biological weapons, according to sources.

A confidential document prepared by Iraqi officials and seized by a UN inspection team at a government ministry described lengthy negotiations leading to a deal worth millions of dollars, including discussions that took place roughly six months after Iraq’s purchase of other biological materials aroused suspicion that Baghdad was concealing an immense germ warfare programme, the sources continued.

Moscow has not replied to a UN request six weeks ago for information about the deal, which included a 5,000-liter (1,300-gallon) fermentation vessel that would ostensibly be used to make protein for animal feed.

As a result, the inspectors are uncertain if Iraq received the equipment.

The vessel is 10 times larger than the largest one Iraq has admitted using to brew an arsenal of deadly germs.

The transaction would have violated a UN-authorized embargo on sales to Iraq of such sensitive materials, the sources said.

‘’It’s dual-purpose equipment,’’ one source said. ‘’That’s exactly what you would need for a large-scale biological plant.’’

Meanwhile, a Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman, Gennadi Tarasov, dismissed the report, according to Reuters, which quoted him as saying Thursday in Moscow: ‘’We decisively deny these crude inventions. Russia has never made any deals with Iraq that would violate international sanctions, moreover deals involving supplies of banned technologies.’’

He said that a UN request for information was sent ‘’on Feb. 8, not six weeks ago’’ and that the Russians had learned of it only Thursday.

The purported evidence of an illicit deal is one element of a close collaboration between Moscow and Baghdad on matters of interest to the United Nations Special Commission on Iraq, the group authorized by the Security Council to eliminate Iraq’s capability to make weapons of mass destruction, according to the sources.

U.S. intelligence agencies have privately warned UN officials that Russian intelligence operatives are spying on the commission and its personnel in New York and overseas, the sources said. They have further warned that the Russian spy agency may have passed some of the information it collects directly to Iraq.

Several American officials confirmed on Wednesday that the FBI was aware of the Russian intelligence operation. A spokesman for the Russian mission to the United Nations, Kirill Speransky, declined to comment, saying, ‘’We usually do not comment on any information concerning intelligence activities.’’

He denied that Moscow had evaded sanctions against Iraq.

U.S. officials say Russia has tried to block specific visits by the UN commission to sensitive sites in Iraq, for reasons that remain unclear. In addition, Moscow has successfully put pressure on a Russian specialist on ballistic missiles and chemical weapons, Nikita Smidovitch, to stop leading some of the commission’s most sensitive inspections, the sources said.

One foreign diplomat, who asked not to be identified, said: ‘’People are suspicious that there really is some reason they don’t want us to find stuff out.’’

A detailed investigation by the commission of Iraq’s purchase of missile gyroscopes from Russia in 1995, in violation of UN sanctions, has produced evidence that well-established Russian defense companies with major links to the government were involved in that transaction - not just corrupt middlemen or brokers, as Moscow contended.

Such evidence has stoked concern that, at a minimum, the Russian government has looked the other way when sensitive or illicit transactions have occurred. ‘’Is it just that Moscow has no export controls, no customs inspections and no law enforcement? Or is Russia willfully trying to help Iraq? The truth probably lies somewhere in the middle,’’ a senior U.S. intelligence official said.

Since October, when Iraq announced that it would no longer accept the UN inspection procedures that had been in place since 1992, Foreign Minister Yevgeni Primakov and other senior Russian officials have been urging the Security Council to adopt less stringent rules. Iraq has accused American members of the UN inspection teams of spying for the United States, a charge denied by the UN and the Clinton administration.

In some cases, Moscow has made little effort to conceal efforts to learn what the commission is doing and to influence the scope and timing of certain sensitive inspections, according to sources.

In the summer of 1996, for example, a team of inspectors retreated to a remote English town for a training exercise to prepare for a surprise visit to a highly sensitive Iraqi site. After checking into a local hotel, an inspector recognized a Russian official who was later identified as the London resident for the Russian foreign intelligence service, according to three sources.

Each night, the official was observed attempting to debrief Russian members of the inspection team, the sources said. When inspectors eventually tried to reach the site targeted by the commission, they were blocked by Iraqi military forces.

According to several accounts of the 1995 Iraqi document, negotiations between the two countries were conducted in both capitals by official delegations.

-Washington Post Service

Gandhi’s violent death and his ahimsa thoughts

Fifty years on from the death of Mahatma Gandhi, lawyer, political activist, apostle of non-violence as a means of settling political disputes and vanquisher of the British Empire, the world is in crying need again for the philosophy he propagated and the debate he provoked. As Jawaharlal Nehru, the first prime minister of newly independent India, said on the day of his assassination, “the light has gone out of our lives and there is darkness everywhere”.

If only India had listened to him more, there would have been no division with Pakistan. If only the British had learnt more from him there would have been no colonial massacres in Kenya or Bloody Sunday in Northern Ireland. Perhaps, if Bill Clinton could spare a thought for Gandhi today, he would find a way of keeping Saddam Hussein in check without risking the horrors of war, a war that New York Times columnist William Safire wrote this week could end with the use of nuclear weapons. (We must never “hold an entire society accountable for the decisions of a single demented leader”, said General Lee Butler, the former commander-in-chief of US Strategic Nuclear Command in a recent speech, in an earnest attempt to head off such dangerous thinking about the unthinkable).

It was at the late age - for an Indian of his generation - of 46 that Gandhi returned to his homeland after three years in England and eighteen years in South Africa. Yet within five years of his return he had become the dominant figure in Indian public life. By 1920 most of the front rank Indian politicians had joined his banner and the others had practically ceased to count. Rarely has a political conquest been more spectacular or complete. It was the Mahatma - the Great Soul - so named by the poet Tagore, that held the heart of the Indian masses. Yet Indian politicians did not follow Gandhi unwillingly. They saw in his non-violent technique the only practical alternative to speech-making and bomb-throwing, the extremes between which Indian politics had previously oscillated. Under his inspiration they turned their backs on creature comforts and professional ambition, and spent the best part of their lives in third class railway carriages and British prisons. In England he had read the Bible from cover to cover. He also read and re-read the Gita, the Hindu scripture. He took Christ’s admonition to “turn the other cheek” literally and he interpreted the battlefield of Kuruksheta in the Gita not as an historical account glorifying violence, as in the Hindu tradition, but as an allegory illuminating the futility of violence. He believed in pursuing peaceful ends through peaceful means. The means and the ends must cohere because the end is pre-existent in the means and ultimately destructive means cannot bring about constructive ends.

He inspired not only his own but also in South Africa the founder of the African National Congress, Albert Lithuli, in the US the civil rights leader, Martin Luther King, in Brazil the human rights activist Archbishop Helder Camara and in Italy the social reformer Danilio Dolci. It was Dr. King who once said in an emotive outburst before the American Jewish Congress, “Perhaps if there had been a broader understanding of the uses of non-violent action in Germany when Hitler was rising and consolidating his power, the brutal extermination of 6 million Jews and a million of other war dead might have been avoided. Germany might never have become totalitarian. If Protestants and Catholics had engaged in non-violent direct action and had made the oppression of Jews their very own oppression, and had come onto the streets to scrub the sidewalks and had Gentiles worn the stigmatising yellow armbands by the millions, a unique form of mass resistance to the Nazi regime might have developed”.

It was such non-violent resistance, if not of such magnitude, nonetheless telling, that undermined the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, delaying for about 15 months the appointment of a collaborationist government. It was non-violent agitation deployed to great effect from the Polish pulpit by Pope John Paul and from the Gdansk shipyards by Lech Walesa that triggered the withering of Soviet power in eastern Europe.

I still remember vividly a long conversation I had with Basil Liddel Hart in the summer of 1969 shortly before he died. Considered almost universally as the most important military thinker of his age (creator of the blitzkrieg form of warfare, among many other things) this astonishing man became increasingly impressed with the limitations of warfare and the power of non-violence. During his interrogation of German generals at the end of the World War II he became aware of the difficulties they had had in surmounting non-violent resistance, particularly in Denmark, Holland and Norway and to some extent in France and Belgium, whereas the violent forms of resistance had posed few problems.

Not even Gandhi himself suggested that non-violence is a recipe for every situation. Violence sometimes is a tragic inevitability. But before the too easy recourse to pulling the trigger alternatives are always worth a second look. This is how it should be with Iraq where sanctions are grinding away and militarily effective biological weapons are probably a decade in the future. President Bill Clinton who once, Gandhian-style, marched for peace against the war in Vietnam should give the Mahatma fifty years on another read.

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